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A villager once told a colleague “if you want to stop illegal logging, you will need a “One soldier, One tree” project. This is expected given the livelihood ties to illegality in the country.

Written By Eric Mensah Kumeh - Spectator citizenry is why nations fail. Nevertheless, citizens cannot engage in governance without access to credible and timely information. However, access to reliable information remains a challenge in Ghana due to political verbiage.

Duty bearers often rebuff research information with alternative facts, political blame games or outright lies. In recent developments on rosewood, alternative facts have been provided and a new designed-to-fail intervention –“BURN rosewood”– posited.

I argue that rather than setting us back on our climate change aspiration by burning rosewood, let´s NAIL it. I start with some contextual information.

Context matters

Resources are not, they become. This assertion typifies current developments on rosewood. The International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) notes that Ghana has over 100 timber tree species, many of which are untapped.

Alternatively, when one of the species gains attention, a relentless assault is launched to collapse its population. During the colonial era, Mahogany, Odum, Ebony, Sapele were of interest. With their decline, attention shifted to Wawa, Ofram, Papao, to name a few.

Today, Ceiba, erstwhile ignored, is a subject of heavy exploitation. Rosewood only entered the scene in the 2000s.

Rosewood mirrors roses in many ways. The latter is beautiful but thorny. One must skilfully navigate its thorns to enjoy its allure; not burn it.

Rosewood produces quality wood required for ornate furniture Far East, especially China. It presents an opportunity to earn foreign exchange.

The thorn, however, is that rosewood occupies our fragile savannah landscape where its roles of windbreaks, habitat protection and soil erosion amelioration are priceless.

With the onset of climate change, logging rosewood to line a few pockets means wiping out agriculture-related livelihoods and increasing vulnerability in the north. This cannot be allowed to happen.

Cheap politics

The rosewood conundrum thrives because of dirty politics, greed and misinformation. Statistics from the Forestry Commission (FC) suggest that it peaked during the erstwhile Mahama administration. If several bans have failed to address the problem, it is because bans do not work in Ghana. The failure of bans on chainsaw milling since 1998 and more recently, illegal mining is proof. Alternatively, they deepen corruption.

A villager once told a colleague “if you want to stop illegal logging, you will need a “One soldier, One tree” project. This is expected given the livelihood ties to illegality in the country.

Perhaps, it is in acknowledging this that the CEO of FC recently averred to “burn all seized rosewood in order to deter people from engaging in cutting down the tree, since all other measures had failed”.

While I appreciate previous attempts by the FC to address the challenge, the current proclamation seems rushed, and misplaced. It needs reconsideration for several reasons.
First, burning rosewood amounts to resource waste. Besides, it will increase our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

This is contrary to Ghana´s commitments under the Paris Agreement´s nationally determined contributions (NDC). Burning a 20ft container of rosewood amounts averagely to 42.8 tCO2e emissions. About 1,900 trees are needed to sequester in a year. Moreover, where will that leave Ghana in its REDD+ aspirations for which loans were contracted to reduce our emissions and enable us to qualify for payments for ecosystem services?

Secondly, burning will not address the underlying causes of the problem. It is merely an outright proclamation that perpetrators of illegality are more powerful than bureaucrats in this country. We cannot allow this to happen. Not in Nana Addo’s CITIZEN née SPECTATORS Ghana. As a citizen, I suggest that we need to “NAIL” rosewood instead of burning it. This is how we can do it.

Name and shame

Let’s start by making scapegoats of perpetrators and financiers of the rosewood menace next to seizing their contrabands. Beyond calling on citizens to expose politicians engaged in the mix, let’s incentivise both the public and civil servants to act. Cash reward systems help but others are motivated by honour, this is where national medals can come in handy. Let’s use them to call citizens to step up to the plate.

Auction and accommodate locals

Instead of burning rosewood, let’s auction it and use the funds to engage grass roots in tackling the problem. Power resides in the grass roots just like the impacts of the menace. Duty bearers need to skilfully engage the grass roots. FLEGT/VPA has shown us that grass-roots engagement can drive change. Awareness is fundamental to sustainable solutions. The FC recognises this and has a meticulous collaborative resource management (CRM) unit focused on this. Instead of burning rosewood, let’s use money from its auction to deepen the CRM actions in rosewood-endemic zones to tackle the root causes of the problem, not its symptoms.

Invest, invest, invest

Three areas of rosewood are worthy of investment: stock establishment, rehabilitation and value chain development. It is unclear what stocks of rosewood remain. Without this, we cannot have any meaningful debate on sustainable exploitation, a basis for the current CITES permit regime. Let’s benchmark what is left. Undoubtedly, a lot has been lost, so while benchmarking, we need to invest in intensive rehabilitation. This fits well with our national plantation development strategy and the Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) initiative.

Let’s act in that direction. Furthermore, we need to develop our timber value chain. This will make use of a hub of innovation that can process rosewood and other timber resources to create jobs, produce finished goods and earn more from timber compared to exporting logs. With this, we can also attract investment in plantation development to reinforce national policy on tackling climate change.

Look at the bigger picture

I have stated that “resource is not, they become”. The question then is which underutilised timber species will become the next rosewood? Simple, we don´t know. We need to invest in this direction, but more importantly, we need to invest to improve our governance mechanisms to make them more proactive and less reactive so that we don´t end up burning rosewood. Let´s NAIL it.


The writer is a PhD candidate at the University of Hohenheim, Germany. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Web: Breakout Africa

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